With Maria Carmen Punzi, PhD candidate at the Rotterdam School of Management and passionate menstrual cycle awareness advocate
Hi Maria Carmen, thank you so much for taking the time for this! At the moment, you are a PhD candidate at the Rotterdam School of Management, and you are researching something very special. Would you like to briefly tell us what it is and how you became interested in that topic?
Of course! In my research, I study how the social movement around menstrual health unfolds, and how the different stakeholders that work on menstruation, social entrepreneurs, activists and non-profits, work together and influence each other. Menstruation is often kept out of organizational innovation and political decision-making, and this lack of attention is really harmful to women. I think we need to advocate for the integration of menstrual health in many more aspects of research and policymaking. Access to information, services, products and shame-free education are key to ensure women opportunities, health and inclusive participation in society.
You are usually well aware of the menstrual cycle phase you are in, does that have an effect on how you plan your workday?
Yes and no. I try to find my personal balance between cultivating cycle awareness and being mindful to not let it “rule” my life. The most meaningful learning I have had so far is that it’s important to listen to my energy and body every day and draw boundaries accordingly. For example, during my menstrual phase I sometimes feel the need for silent “solo” working hours and reduced social interaction. I have learnt to say no to unnecessary meetings or prioritise focus work. Instead, when I feel more energetic, such as in the follicular or ovulatory phase, I may work longer hours and combine work projects with the content and social work for @periodswithmariacarmen or offer to take on some extra work if other colleagues need support.
Can you briefly name some of the tasks that you focus on in each cycle phase?
During my menstrual phase, I feel very connected to my intuition, crave silence and don’t feel very up to socialize. That’s why I tend to devote time to reading, studying and deep thinking and I try not to schedule too many meetings in a day if that’s possible.
During my follicular phase, I feel quite creative and “daring”. I let my inspiration and ideas pop up without judging them and I try to switch around routines, to not feel bored throughout the day.
During the ovulatory phase, I usually feel most confident and I then make sure to get out there with presentations, networking opportunities and going the extra mile (think hosting Instagram lives).
During the luteal, I know I can rely on my critical eye and my sense of (in)justice being fired up. This means that I can focus on editing my writing as well as engage in activist work, speaking out against injustice and advocating for change I want to see.
Does that have any implications on your work outcomes or your overall productivity?
Absolutely. Mostly, what I understood is that your life does not have to revolve around your menstrual cycle for you to reap the benefits of such practice. It’s more about, I would say, understanding how to take care of yourself at each phase, doing the 1% that will support your physical, mental and spiritual health. I think taking this approach has shifted the way in which I see work.
"I now don’t focus on the number of hours I work and don't glorify busyness and exhaustion. Instead I focus on the overall goals and on feeling balanced in the process."
I am a big fan of your approach to period positivity and you also raise awareness for body literacy on your Instagram account. In what way do you think that influenced you in your menstrual experience?
Thank you! Body literacy definitely made me very grateful for my body. A body which is healthy, which ovulates, which puts mechanisms in place to support our wellbeing, is something to be extremely proud of! Additionally, menstrual cycle awareness made me more self-compassionate. It’s a powerful tool for recovering perfectionists. By learning about the menstrual cycle, I realized the importance of both rest and work, reflection and action. This also translates into the recognition that there is no “perfect” cycle: the objective of a menstrual cycle awareness practice is to feel confident that you know your body best and you can trust yourself and your intuition if something feels off. It’s not about optimizing everything and becoming your most productive self!
Is there anything that helps you get more comfortable at work during your bleeding phase? What helps you to stay productive if your menstruation overlaps with important deadlines?
My go-to is getting to bed earlier and sleeping in if I feel like I need to, allowing myself to start the morning more slowly than usual. I make sure to stay warm, wear comfortable clothing and have a hot water bottle at hand. Another great hack has been to make sure I have pre-cooked healthy food waiting for me in the fridge! Finally, I try to still make sure to still get some movement in, whether that’s yoga or a walk. I find that often helps clear my mind and overcome the sluggish feeling I get sometimes.
If I have an important deadline coming up, I make sure I prepare really well the weeks before. I focus on meal-prepping, I make sure to not overburden my social schedule and I double down on supplements like magnesium (for menstrual cramps) and nutritious food. But most importantly, I try to stay compassionate towards myself, in order to ease the stress that could come from the deadline itself.
Are there any apps or other resources that you use that help you align your cycle with your work?
I don’t have particular apps to share, but what has been a game-changer is to take notes, either in an app like Clue or in a calendar, about what tasks feel the most natural and in the flow in each phase. Having tracked those observations for months, I know now how to harness my strength throughout the month and can plan accordingly.
If we take poor care of ourselves or have certain health conditions, menstruation can be a very difficult time for menstruating people. Do you feel like you could talk freely about potential issues related to your menstrual health with your colleagues?
Given the core of my work revolves around menstrual health, my colleagues are quite used to hearing me talk about menstrual cycles and their related challenges. However, I still feel like in many institutional contexts it may be deemed unprofessional. There is also of course the risk that people may start thinking of women as “hormonal” or weak. It’s a very fine balance to advocate for menstrual health and still convince people that women can work just as well as men can.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges that menstruating employees face at work that aren’t typically faced by non-menstruators?
I think we are raised to believe that productivity is linear and that we should be feeling the same from one day to the other. For people who experience menstrual cycles, that is simply not the case and may lead them to feel inadequate and not good enough. Additionally, I think the lack of awareness around menstrual disorders and their implication for physical and mental health, can be a real barrier to women thriving in the workplace.
If you could decide to introduce a (new) period policy, which one would benefit you most?
To be fair, I have quite a flexible job and therefore I am able to work from home if I need to, on days I choose to. I would like to see more companies embrace remote working a few days a month (I guess we’re getting ready for it with the whole COVID situation). I think such an approach could really benefit many women if they were able to take it a bit easier and not have to come to the office on the days of menstruation.
Which talk, podcast or book has had the biggest impact on how you think about menstruation and work? Why did it resonate with you?
I am very lucky in the sense that I have some wonderful mentors in the menstrual space. I cannot possibly name them all, but I would very much encourage people to check out Claire Baker’s reflections on creative work and the cycle, Alisa Vitti’s take on productivity for women and Anna Buzzoni’s transformative writing on rethinking society through cyclical frameworks. These were all pivotal writing for me, and they really challenged the way I think about productivity, success and work-life balance.
Again, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. To finish, would you like to share the most valuable word of advice that you have gotten along your journey?
I think what I’d like to leave your readers with is the following: no one can tell you how you should feel throughout your cycle. It’s up to you to listen to your body, soul and mind if you decide to. Don’t look for the answers outside of yourself. Sure, all the frameworks people like me and Katharina share can be helpful guides.
"But at the end of the day, you live in your body and you already know what you need. Maybe you just need to listen more closely."
For everyone that is intrigued to learn more about you and your work, how can they find you online?
I would love to connect with your readers! I share my work on Instagram via @periodswithmariacarmen, where I combine fun and light-hearted content with evidence-based information on menstrual cycles. For more articles, content and reflections, let’s connect on LinkedIn!